Tag Archives: equality

V’Zot HaBerachah: Hanging on a Peg

Sukkot In The Synagogue. Leopold Pilichowski (1869-1933). Oil On Canvas.“And this is to Yehudah, and he (Moshe) said, ‘Listen Almighty to the voice of Yehudah”

Deuteronomy 33:7

What does this verse refer to?

Rashi teaches us that Moshe is referring to the prayers of the kings of Yehudah: David, Asa, Yehoshofot and Chizkiyah.

The Midrash elaborates: There were four kings and each one asked the Almighty for different things. King David asked that he should be able to pursue his enemies and vanquish them. King Asa said, “I don’t have the ability to kill my enemies. Rather, I will pursue them and You Almighty should vanquish them.” King Yehoshofot stood up and said, “I don’t have the ability to vanquish my enemies or even to pursue them. Rather, I will pray and You Almighty should vanquish them.” Chizkiyah stood up and said, “I do not have the ability to vanquish, to pursue or to pray. Rather, I will stay home and sleep and You Almighty should vanquish my enemies.”

What is the meaning of not being able to pursue or pray? Why should anyone find this difficult since the Almighty will be involved? Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz used to explain: Regardless of what we ourselves do to be successful in any area, we must be aware that ultimately it is the Almighty Who causes the victory. Everything is dependent on His will, but we must do our share.

Dvar Torah based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot and Torah Portion V’Zot HaBerachah

But our share of what? In the above midrash, we are taught that regardless of how much or how little we are able to do in our lives, it is actually God who is the source of everything. There are some people who don’t like that idea, especially well accomplished people who have worked very hard to achieve a measure of success. Imagine a renowned classical pianist being told, “God was so good to you to have given you such talent,” and then hearing the pianist reply something like, “God, nothing. Where was God when I spent endless hours over the past forty years practicing and learning? Thanking God for my talent totally invalidates all of the hard work I did to achieve my current musical skill.”

From an atheist’s point of view, I can see how a Christian saying such a thing would be very insulting. It’s difficult to see the interplay between God’s sovereignty and His expectation of our participation. On the other hand, there’s also a very real danger that by giving God all the glory and then some (not that we shouldn’t give all the glory), we believe we have no responsibility to produce any of the effort God expects of us.

But as I said before, what effort is expected of us? Well, that depends.

… in order that his (the king’s) should not be lifted above his brethren, and that he should not deviate from the commandment to the right or to the left.

Deuteronomy 17:20

The Torah requires that even one who is in a position of leadership and prominence must retain his humility. Moses and David are outstanding examples of leaders who were extremely humble.

How can one remain humble when one exercises great authority and is the recipient of homage and adulation? “Simple,” said Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin. “If a king hangs his crown on a peg in the wall, would the peg boast that its extreme beauty drew the king’s attention to it?”

While an organized society needs leaders, and in Judaism there is a need for Kohanim and Levites who have special functions, an intelligent person should never allow a particular status to turn his head and make him think that he is better than others. Nor should men consider themselves superior to women because they have certain mitzvos from which women are exempt, and women should not think that they must attain equality by rejecting these exemptions and performing these mitzvos. There is no need to attain something that one already has. Men and women, Kohanim and Levites, leaders and kings – we are all “pegs in the wall” which the King uses for His purposes as He sees fit.

True, we should always strive for that which is above us, but this means striving for greater wisdom and spirituality, and not for positions of superiority. The latter are not at all “above” us; one peg may be higher on the wall than another, but that does not make it a better peg.

Today I shall…

…try to realize that I, like all other people in the world, am but an instrument of God, wherewith He wishes to achieve the Divine will.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 13”

hat-on-a-pegOur share or what is expected of us depends on which peg we are. No one, not even the King or the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) is more important than anyone else, but they still have special functions. The local village water carrier could not step in and fulfill the functions of either. For instance, in the days of the Temple, you wouldn’t see the King entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to offer atonement for the nation. Only the Kohen Gadol could do that. Not that the Priest was more important or more exalted than the King, only that his function was highly specialized.

What we do as servants of God’s Divine will depend on who we are. No one person is more important than another but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same, either.

Which brings me to this:

It is not with us, it is with Israel, and by accepting Israel’s Messiah we get to partake in Israel’s blessings. As an example, if my husband receives a family inheritance, then as his wife I would obviously partake in it too. However, it isn’t “MY” inheritance, and my receiving any benefit from HIS inheritance requires connection to him.

I don’t see God covenanting with Gentiles in the Bible, rather, we receive blessings of Israel as we draw near to them.

That was a comment made on one of my recent blog posts.

That revelation is actually very humbling. It hardly contributes to the feeling of significance of a Christian (or any non-Jewish believer) in relation to God. I have written on multiple occasions about how it is only through Israel that we have a doorway at all into any blessings from God. Without the covenant relationship that Israel, the Jewish people, have with God, we people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11-12), cannot be called by His Name. In fact, only three verses in the Bible create the link that allows anyone but the physical descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to have a covenant relationship with God at all:

Now the Lord said to Abram,

“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (NASB)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but only that last sentence at the end of verse 3 creates the link. Paul’s commentary on this part of God’s covenant with Abraham brings forth some illumination:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Galatians 3:16 (NASB)

You have to read that whole chapter in Galatians and then interpret it carefully to realize that Paul was not invalidating the Torah (Law) for Jewish people, but then again, he wasn’t applying the Abrahamic covenant (or any other covenant God made with Israel) as a total unit to his Gentile audience either. He was only applying the blessing from a single condition of the Abrahamic covenant to the non-Jewish believers, as recorded in a tiny slice of Genesis 12:1-3. Misinterpretation of this part of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia has led to generations of Christians believing that they would physically have an inheritance in the Land of Israel, either replacing or at least crowding out the Jewish people.

Square Peg in a Round HoleOther misinterpretations have led many people in recent years to believe they inherit not only all of the blessings that result from God’s covenant with Abraham, but all of the covenants (and their blessings) God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Children of Israel, effectively deleting any distinction between Gentile believers and Jewish people everywhere.

Just because the Jewish pegs aren’t more important or better loved by God than the Gentile pegs doesn’t mean that just anyone can take the crown from the King’s peg and put it on their own head. Only the King is King. Only the High Priest is the High Priest. Only the Jewish people are Jewish and bear the Jewish responsibilities assigned to them by God. Only the people of the nations who are called by God’s Name are who we are and only we have the special responsibility to encourage, support, and nurture Jewish return to God and to Torah in order to facilitate the return of Messiah.

I know that by just saying such a thing, I’ve become a square peg in the world of round holes. I don’t fit in either the Christian church by having such an opinion, nor do I reasonably fit in any traditionally Jewish realm. Even Messianic Judaism doesn’t know what to do with me because I go to church, and Hebrew Roots can’t tolerate me because of the idea of not being equal sharers in, or owners of, all blessings and all covenants across the board (but isn’t equal access to God’s love, mercy, grace, and salvation enough?).

Equality but not homogeneity is an extremely difficult concept to grasp, and it’s even more difficult to live out. Believe me, I know. I strive to live it out every day. There’s a horrible temptation to see myself not only as not equal to other believers (Jewish or Gentile), but not even significant to God.

But it becomes easier when I realize that it’s not human relationships, human priorities, or human judgments that are the key, but a relationship with God.

It is better to take refuge in the LORD Than to trust in man.

Psalm 118:8

Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.

Psalm 146:3-7

Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; For why should he be esteemed?

Isaiah 2:22

That said, there are people I admire and esteem for their holiness and their knowledge, but it is hardly wise to base one’s relationship with God on what some other human being says you should or shouldn’t do. Not that there aren’t good teachers and good books to help along the way. But the buck does not stop with such good teachers and good books, and it most assuredly doesn’t stop with most of the silliness we find in most of the religious blogosphere.

Recently, Rabbi Carl Kinbar said to me:

You asked, “But if God is our teacher and perhaps ultimately, our only teacher, where can we go to learn from Him without having to endure endless layers of human filters?” Our Teacher has placed us in complex relationships with these “human filters” who sometimes have to be “endured” (as they have to endure us) but at other times inspire us (as we hope to inspire them. Not to mention our traditions, which are also marked by joy and pain.

Hopefully, we also experience those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself – moments of simplicity that do not transcend life but help direct us in the midst of its complexities and uncertainties.

love-in-lights…those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself… As Rabbi Kinbar said, we have been placed as pegs among many other pegs to sometimes “endure” each other, but also, we pegs have been placed among each other to inspire each other. True, we also sometimes discourage each other, which is often the place from which I write. That is why, as much as we pegs need to be with each other, whether I am a square peg or a round one, it is not only important, but it is vital that I seek out, that we all seek out, those very rare moments of utter love and holiness with God himself – moments of simplicity that do not transcend life but help direct us in the midst of its complexities and uncertainties.

Everything is dependent on His will, but we must do our share. Even understanding who we are and what “share” we must do can be terribly complex. For some people it may be easy, but for many others, it only seems that way, because uncertainty and dissonance is extremely uncomfortable. Saying, “God wants me to do this” (whether He really does or not) is a lot easier than saying (and feeling) “I’m not sure what God wants so I turn to Him in my uncertainty and let His will guide me, not my own.”

I’m glad we are in the days of Sukkot. What better place to be than sitting in my sukkah, looking dimly up at the sky and the clouds, listening to the fabric of the sukkah fluttering in the breeze, seeking a very rare moment of utter love and holiness with God himself.

Good Shabbos.

5 days.

The Equality Puzzle, Part 3

To be perfectly blunt: I must say the Christians have robbed the Jews! And perhaps what is worse is that this thievery has been encouraged by theologians, pastors, and even Sunday School teachers, where small children are taught to sing the song, “Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line.”

Every promise in Scripture in some way benefits Christians, but it is not all promised to Christians. Sometimes the thievery has been inadvertent and unintentional. It’s like thinking that the raincoat hanging in the office closet is yours for wearing home because of unexpected showers. Hopefully, you will discover the raincoat belongs to a fellow worker and you will restore it. It is not as if Christians do not have the greatest promise of God, which is 1 John 2:25: “And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.”

Moishe Rosen
from his Foreward to Barry Horner’s book
Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged

This is Part 3 of a four-part series. Go to Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already read them.

I know that Mr. Rosen was addressing concerns with the traditional Christian church and the effects of Christian supersessionism on the Jewish people, but given what I said in Part 2 of this series, he could just as easily have been addressing Christian “One Law” proponents. I know “thievery” seems like a strong term to apply to people who want nothing but to obey God and all of the Torah mitzvot, but from a Jewish point of view, (even a “Jews for Jesus” point of view in the case of the late Mr. Rosen) that’s how it looks.

But Rosen says something curious at the end of the above-quoted statement. He says, “It is not as if Christians do not have the greatest promise of God, which is 1 John 2:25: “And this is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life.”

The greatest promise of God means that we Christians are the direct beneficiaries of the promise of eternal life. What more do we want of God but what He has already granted us by His bountiful grace and mercy?

However, as human beings, we have a tendency not only to want what we can’t have, but to believe that we’re being shortchanged if, for instance, “Moishe” has been given a unique gift or responsibility that was not granted to “Barry” as well.

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. –Romans 3:1-2 (ESV)

I agree, being a Jew, including a “Messianic Jew,” has many advantages in relation to God. But saying that, and getting back to Mr. Rosen for a moment, I believe there are many advantages to being a Gentile Christian as well.

In the “Messianic” world, there’s a sort of covert bit of jealousy going on, at least with some of the non-Jewish participants, because these Gentiles see the beauty and wonder of living a Jewish religious lifestyle and they desire to live that life as well, but without converting to Judaism. More conservative elements in Messianic Judaism are echoing Moishe Rosen’s words and crying “foul” when One Law Christians demand the right to be obligated to the full weight of performing the 613 mitzvot, including those behaviors that specifically point to Jewish covenant status and Jewish identity markers. Those Jews cry out, (again, echoing Rosen) “Hey, that’s my raincoat. Give it back,” and in response the “Jewish raincoat wearing” Gentiles retort, “It’s mine, now.” as if they’re still singing the old Sunday School song,Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line.”

I said clearly in Part 2 of this blog series that there is nothing preventing the Christian who finds meaning and beauty in the Torah from adopting many of the mitzvot in their worship lives. Please, you can joyously light the candles on Shabbos, pray the Shema, and daven facing toward Jerusalem. You can even feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, help a lame person cross a busy street, and give abundantly to charitable causes. All of these are Torah mitzvot and if performing these deeds brings your heart closer to God, who am I as one lone Christian to tell you that they are forbidden you?

Oh wait.

What did I say? What were those mitzvot again?

I’m trying to clean up something that has become terribly muddied and messed up in translation. In “hosing off” the muddled confusion, I have “discovered” (no, it’s no great secret) that a great deal of the Torah is stuff that Christians all over the world have been doing for uncounted centuries. You want to “obey Torah?” It’s not complicated in its essence. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love justice. Do mercy. Smile at a stranger. Hug a small child with a scraped knee. Honestly, where’s the mystery? How hard is it to obey God? It’s a no brainer.

If, in the middle of all that, you want to order Kosher meals on your next international flight, or wear a head covering to honor the God who is always above you, I don’t think there’s much of a problem. No one is locking you out of the Torah or keeping the God of Israel hidden in a room with a sign on the door that says, For Jews Only.”

D.T. LancasterBut I keep saying that Christians are not Jews and I also keep saying that there are great advantages to being a Christian. But what are those advantages, I mean besides eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord? If there are advantages to Jews that uniquely belong to Jews, can the same be said about Christians?

I should say at this point that even if, beyond having our sins forgiven, coming into a “right relationship with God,” and being granted eternal life, there are no other “special advantages” to confessing Christ and coming to faith in the Jewish Messiah, is it really our place to complain to God about it? Hasn’t He done enough for us? If he chooses to assign additional obligations to the Jew, including the Messianic Jew, that He does not apply to the Gentile Christian, isn’t that God’s right? Maybe we can apply one of the Master’s parables to our own situation by way of an answer.

And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” –Matthew 20-8-16 (ESV)

I know it seems as if I’m contradicting myself because the parable is actually about how God’s love, grace, and salvation are applied in equal measure regardless of what age a person is when they come to faith. That is, everyone, no matter who they are or how old they are, eight years or eighty, when they become disciples of the Master, receives the same gifts from God as equals. Couldn’t this also mean that the obligations of Torah should be distributed evenly to both Jew and Christian as equals?

But look at it another way. The workers who were hired early and worked longer received the same wages as the workers who were hired later and worked less…and the “early hires” were ungrateful and jealous, even though it’s the Master’s money and he can pay as he pleases.

It’s also God’s Torah and He can apply it as He pleases. Are we really going to “get in God’s face” and kvetch about it? Just how ungrateful and ungracious do we want to be?

So what advantage is there in being uniquely Gentile Christian? As Paul might say, “much in every way.”

Instead of attacking Christianity, Messianic Gentiles would do well to focus on what is good about Christianity. This is necessary for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that Messianic Gentiles, as stated above, are Christians. Just as important, though, is the impact this positive attitude will have on any effort to bring Christians to recognize the Jewish roots of their faith.

It isn’t difficult to find good things to say about Christianity. First, Christianity has brought billions of people to Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah and King of the Jews. This is a non-trivial accomplishment. Even some Jewish scholars have recognized the significance of this fact. In Hilkhot Melakhim 11:10–12, Maimonides credits Christianity with preparing the Gentile world for the arrival of King Messiah by spreading knowledge of the Bible far and wide. If even those who do not claim Yeshua as Messiah can affirm the good that has come from Christianity, certainly believers should be able to as well.

Second, Christianity has helped uncountable numbers of poor, hungry, destitute, abandoned people. Myriads of counselees—drug abusers and alcoholics, victims of abuse, troubled spouses—have benefited from a pastor’s biblical advice. From Carey and Wilberforce’s campaigns against satī in India to the modern phenomenon of “adopting” starving African children, Christians everywhere have expended their resources to help those less fortunate. Today, Christian orphanages in India take in abandoned children with nowhere else to turn, just as devout Christian George Müller did over a century ago in England.

Most of these people—the poor, the abandoned, the disenfranchised, and the abused—will never understand how Yeshua fulfilled the Passover. They may never taste matzah. They may never utter a single word of Hebrew or even be able to read the Bible in their own language. Yet they rely, just as we do, on the saving grace of God through Yeshua the Messiah.

-Boaz Michael
from an early manuscript of his forthcoming book
“Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile” (pp 50-51)

For nearly twenty centuries, the church has preserved the Gospels of Christ and the letters of Paul, James, Peter, and others, and that “good news” has brought countless millions of human beings into covenant relationship with God. How many people found faith who would have otherwise been hopelessly lost without the church? How many people have been given clothing, food, medicine, companionship, mercy, and kindness by Christians whose only motivation was to serve the Savior and to the will of God? I admit that many terrible things have been done in the name of Jesus, but that’s the fault of flawed and damaged human beings, not the will of the Creator of the Universe. When we actually do His will, it always is for the good.

But you might be saying right now, “So what? Haven’t Christians have always done that?”

I’ll answer that question and more in the Fourth and final part of this series.

Addendum: Derek Leman has written a blog post called Is MJ Guilty of Jewish Elitism? The theme is substantially similar to this series of “meditations” and I recommend that you stop by Derek’s blog and have a read.

The Equality Puzzle, Part 2

Part 2 in a four-part series. Go to Part 1 before continuing here.

While Christians and Jews rarely get hung up on who is obligated to what under usual circumstances, there is a “middle area” where Christians and Jews meet and sometimes enter into conflict. Of course I’m talking about Messianic Judaism which, in its ideal, is a form of normative Judaism (modern traditional Judaism and the traditional church will disagree with me here) that allows halakhic Jews who have come to faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, to give him honor and to worship God in a wholly religious Jewish context and environment. It could be thought of as a Judaism like other sects of Judaism in the 21st century, but one acknowledging that the Messiah has already come and will come again.

As I said, the rest of normative Judaism in our world completely rejects any suggestion that Jesus could possibly have been (or will be) the Jewish Messiah King and thus (for the most part) rejects all Jews who “believe in Jesus.”

Christianity sometimes struggles with Messianic Judaism as well, since the phrase “under the Law” is virtually a curse word in most churches. “Jewish Christians” who continue to observe the mitzvot are considered to be a slap in the face to Jesus Christ and his bloody, sacrificial death on the cross, which, after all, was supposed to have freed all men from the Law.

OK, not all churches believe in such supersessionist ideas and many churches are slowly progressing forward, but for a large number of “average Christians,” Messianic Judaism is at least a mystery if not an actual affront to their concept of the work of Christ.

Somewhere in the midst of all this is a group of Gentiles who believe in Christ as Lord, Savior, and Messiah, but who disdain not only the church as a whole, but even the name “Christian,” preferring to refer to themselves as “One Law” or “Messianic Gentile” or some other circumlocution.

Last week in Journey to Reconciliation, Part 1 and Part 2, I said that many people who make up the Hebrew Roots/One Law movement became disillusioned with the traditional church and feel that some form of “Judaism” is the key to returning to the true intent of Christ and the “grafting in” of non-Jewish believers into the Hebraic root. However, it becomes amazingly confusing when large groups of Gentile Christians start attempting to absorb and live out Jewish religious customs and identity markers, often without a very good understanding of the underlying traditions, definitions, and methods of operationalization of a Jewish religious lifestyle.

In other words, many One Law practitioners are only “quasi-Jewish” in appearance and otherwise don’t typically conform to actual Jewish religious behaviors. In any event, a group of Christians practicing modern Jewish Halacha is not the same thing as the first pagan goyim abandoning idolatry and starting to worship in a First Century church established by the Apostle Paul.

It gets even more confusing when, confronted with hundreds of years of Jewish Rabbinic judgments, rulings, and education, some Hebrew Roots Christians either decide to toss the Talmud out altogether or reinvent it for their own purposes. However, any attempt to live out even the semblance of a Jewish lifestyle, either without the Talmud or using it in a drastically altered version, is ultimately doomed to failure.

The ability to even understand how to enact the basics of Torah doesn’t exist without some form of interpretation. Whether you choose to believe in the authority of the Rabbis to make halakhic rulings or not, they did establish a standard of Biblical interpretation and behavior that has served to safeguard the Jewish people for the past 20 centuries. Granted, the Rabbis never intended the vast majority of the Talmud to ever apply to non-Jewish people, but once you commit yourself to a Jewish lifestyle, it becomes impossible to avoid significant encounters with the Talmud.

Any Gentile who chooses to pray with a Siddur has encountered the Talmud and probably the Zohar. Any Gentile who dons a tallit gadol has encountered the Talmud. Any Gentile who attempts to “keep kosher” beyond the limits of Leviticus 11 has encountered the Talmud. The Rabbinic Sages and their rulings are so integrated into modern Judaism that for all intents and purposes, they are modern Judaism. You cannot adopt any item or element from modern Jewish religious and worship life without encountering and adopting some aspect or ruling of the Sages.

There’s no such thing as a “Bible-only” Jewish life (there’s no such thing as a “Bible-only” Christian life either, since we too have a rich history of tradition and ritual…we just pretend their is). Any understanding and implementation of the mitzvot at all is heavily interpreted and filtered through hundreds of years of Rabbinic commentary.

I mentioned in another blog post that, while Rabbis discourage non-Jews from taking on Jewish identity customs such as wearing kippot, they also recognize that we non-Jews may want to adopt the underlying intent of those markers. There are some Gentiles who refrain from wearing a kippah outside of an authentic Jewish synagogue setting, but who honor God by covering their heads with a hat or similar article when in public. There’s nothing wrong with that.

The Messianic educational and publishing ministry First Fruits of Zion has written an overwhelming number of books and articles outlining the appropriateness and desirability of Christians keeping significant portions of the Torah, including the correct Halacha involved, so it’s not as if we Gentile believers are cut off from the beauty of wonder of the traditions and prayers. However, it is one thing to be a grafted in branch being nurtured by the “civilized” root, and another thing entirely to say that we now own that root and that it is totally ours to do with as we please.

We cannot throw out the Jewish lifestyle without exterminating the historic link that connects Judaism (and thus any Jewish application to Christianity) back 2,000 years to the days of the Messiah’s earthly existence. We cannot take the Jewish lifestyle and morph it into something that pleases we Christians better without destroying the authenticity and the “Jewishness” of that link. In our ignorance or our arrogance, (or both) we are continuing to do what we did in the darkest days of the history of the church; invalidate and destroy the history of the Jewish people and claim its “first fruits” as belonging only to us.

If anyone in Christianity desires to address some form of “Torah observance,” it hardly makes sense for us to reinvent the wheel by redesigning Halacha. If we want to “keep kosher,” for example, the standards for keeping kosher are well established. We don’t need to “fix” them or rewrite them. How could we do better? Where do we get the authority to try to take Jewish life and “Gentilize it?” If some Christians want to pray with a siddur, then you will have to get used to the idea that most of the prayers were written post-Second Temple, and a significant portion of the content originated with the ancient Jewish Sages.

Actually, I don’t blame “One Law” Christians and even the more moderate “Messianic Gentiles” (a category to which I probably still belong, although I think of myself as “Christian”) for being confused as to what aspects of Torah are allowable and which are considered “forbidden” to Gentiles by the Jewish people.

(I suppose now would be a good time to mention that Judaism can’t actually walk into some Gentile’s home or congregation and say, “You can’t do that. Only we can do that.” If any non-Jews refrain from Jewish dress or practices that uniquely identify the Jewish people, it would have to be out of respect for the Jews and the desire to honor the Jewish forefathers who brought the first Gentiles into faith and discipleship under the Jewish Messiah King. If you choose not to show that type or level of honor, then I guess you’ll do as you please.)

For people who are intermarried and interfaith like me, it’s a little simpler in that, having a Jewish spouse, whatever Jewish practices the Jew in the home performs, the non-Jew is involved. Thus if my wife should choose to light the Shabbos candles and say the blessing, I, as her husband, would be able to enjoy the full flavor of the Shabbat entering our home. Of course, I’ve blogged many times in the past about the conflicts and dissonance that can also be involved in an intermarried home, so in some sense, a husband and wife who are either both Christians or both Jews (or both Messianic Jews) have certain advantages.

In the home, there is no problem for the Christian who loves welcoming in the Shabbat, praying with the Siddur, and even wearing tzitzit and tefillin in prayer since, in privacy, it is between the Christian and God. In public, it becomes more “dicey” as I’ve already mentioned, especially once the Gentile individual or group purposefully adopts Jewish practices and dress and then deliberately alters time-honored Halacha and tradition because they believe they have the “right,” and what the Jewish people have established either doesn’t fit, or isn’t “good enough” somehow.

As I said, this issue is already hopelessly confused, which is one reason why I simply put the brakes on my own “One Law” religious practice, put my tallit, my kippah, and everything else “Jewish” in a box, and hit the “Reset” button. If a Christian has to adopt Jewish practices in order to feel religiously significant, spiritually closer to God, or validated in their faith in Jesus, then something is terribly wrong.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? –Galatians 3:1-6 (ESV)

Some people get so involved in adopting or adapting the “mechanics” of modern Judaism into their lives that they effectively forget that Jesus does matter. In fact, they forget that he matters more than anything because without the Messiah, we Gentiles could never become Christians and as such, enter into a covenant relationship with the God of Abraham.

But if the Torah is not our “keys to Heaven” so to speak, and if focusing on the mitzvot or our own adaptations of Halacha are not the most significant things in our lives, then on what do we base our hope? Where does our treasure lie? Are we always, as Christians, the “little brother” tagging along behind the older and “cooler” Jewish Messianics?

Absolutely not! But if not, then who are we and, in terms of anything “Messianic,” where is our significance, our role, our purpose in God’s Kingdom. We’ll cover that in Part 3.

The Equality Puzzle, Part 1

“For all that You created to revive the soul of all that live…” Tosafos – For example, apples. – 37a

One motza’ei Shabbos, one of the chassidim of R’ Aharon Karliner came to visit him. During their conversation, the gabai brought a plate of fruit before them. The Rebbe picked up an apple, and fervently recited the appropriate brochah, thanking Hashem for the fruit of the trees, and he cut off a slice. He then proceeded to eat the apple.

The chossid sat across the table from the Rebbe, watching his every move. He had always thought of the rebbe as akin to one of the angels, and yet, here was his rebbe, eating a mundane apple just like everyone else would. For a fleeting moment, a thought flashed through the mind of the chossid, “We both eat apples, and we both recite brachos. True, the rebbe recites the brochah with a bit more concentration than I do, but we are both essentially the same.”

The rebbe was quick to notice the subtle change of demeanor from reverence to careful appraisal, and he said to his guest, “Tell me, what indeed is the difference between you and me? I eat apples, and you eat apples. I recite blessings, and you recite blessings. So how are we different?”

“I was just wondering the same thing,” the chossid admitted, somewhat startled and embarrassed.

“I’ll tell you,” the rebbe said. “When I get up in the morning, I look around and see all the beautiful things Hashem has created. I am overwhelmed with the splendor of creation, and the mastery of the universe. I am enthralled and I crave to praise Hashem, but I know that it is forbidden to say Hashem’s name in vain. So, I reach for an apple, which gives me the opportunity to praise Hashem as I say a brochah.

“But when you arise in the morning, the first thing you think is that you are hungry, and you want to eat an apple. You cannot eat it without saying a brochah, so you do so to allow yourself to eat. You say your brachos in order to eat, but I eat in order to say a brochah and to talk to Hashem.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Eating to Bless”
Berachos 37

Part 1 in a four-part series.

I mentioned just the other day that we believers who grew up in the west, particularly in the United States, seem to be all about our “rights” and all about “equality.” We have a philosophy that is even built into our Declaration of Independence (although at the time this document was written, it really only applied to white landowners), so it is difficult to even conceive of essential “inequalities” between different groups of human beings unless we invoke the terms “racism” or “bigotry.”

But is inequality between peoples true in terms of the Bible’s intent and more importantly, is it true in terms of God’s intent for humanity? On the surface, it would seem the answer is “no.”

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. –Galatians 3:27-29 (ESV)

It would seem then, that the Christian ideal is for anyone who has been “baptized into Christ,” there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female.” We indeed are all equal before the throne of our King and no one is superior or inferior in relation to each other in the eyes of God.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have differences, of course. It would be foolish to believe that men and women are completely identical right down to their physiology and biochemistry. Also, in terms of social status, duties, and responsibilities, in the day of Paul, there were still slaves and masters, equal in the love of God, but still a master held authority over the slave. The Galatians 3:28 “equality” didn’t “whitewash” humanity. There are still differences in biology and in social roles and status.

Which tends to chafe at some people, particularly those who are more politically liberal. After all, no one wants to support or commit acts of discrimination or injustice which lowers one human being in relation to another. If we’re all equal in God’s eyes, shouldn’t our identities, practices, and roles relative to the faith be identical, too?

Not necessarily.

I quoted the commentary on Berachos 37 above to illustrate that on the level of spiritual development, we can exist on very different planes of accomplishment. A tzaddik like the Rebbe obviously has a more highly developed perspective on spiritual matters than the Chassid who was observing him. Their transaction reminds me of another “Rebbe” relating to his own “Chassidim.”

An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” –Luke 9:46-48 (ESV)

Jesus knew “the reasoning of their hearts” even as the Rebbe in the story above noticed “the subtle change of demeanor from reverence to careful appraisal” of his Chassid. He was also just as quick to point out that there we indeed differences between a Rebbe and his Chassid, just as there were differences between Jesus and his disciples. We are also the disciples of Jesus and just like his students of ancient days, we have a long way to go in our learning and understanding. We are not equal to our Master.

Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. –John 13:16 (ESV)

I don’t think any Christian, regardless of denomination, tradition, or sect, would seriously consider themselves as equal to Jesus Christ, but do we consider ourselves always equal to one another?

Given the nature of human beings, probably not. That is, people have a tendency to elevate themselves at the expense of others. But is this always unjustified? It wasn’t in terms of the Rebbe and his Chassid. But what about between different groups of believers.

In traditional Judaism, Jews do not see themselves as superior to Christians or any other group of Gentiles. They only see themselves as functionally different based on the covenant requirements that were specified at Sinai. This viewpoint is illuminated by a response to an “Ask the Rabbi” question about why Jews don’t proselytize.

It would be discriminatory for Judaism to proselytize and try to convert those not of the religion. That would imply that everybody needs to be Jewish in order to make a relationship with God, participate in the Torah’s vision of repairing the world, and “get to heaven.” Yet this is not so.

The idea of demanding that everyone to convert is probably familiar to you as a Christian ideal. For example, a Baptist group in Florida recently spent over $1 million to distribute a video entitled “Jesus” to every household in Palm Beach County. It’s no coincidence that 60 percent of these homes are Jewish.

Be that as it may, the Jewish idea is that the Torah of Moses is a truth for all humanity, whether Jewish or not. The Torah (as explained in the Talmud – Sanhedrin 58b) presents seven mitzvot for non-Jews to observe. These seven laws are the pillars of human civilization, and are named the Seven Laws of Noah, since all humans are descended from Noah.

Maimonides explains that any human being who faithfully observes these laws earns a proper place in heaven. So you see, the Torah is for all humanity, no conversion necessary.

As well, when King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he specifically asked God to heed the prayer of non-Jews who come to the Temple (1-Kings 8:41-43). The Temple was the universal center of spirituality, which the prophet Isaiah referred to as a “house for all nations.” The service in the Holy Temple during the week of Sukkot featured a total of 70 bull offerings, corresponding to each of the 70 nations of the world. In fact, the Talmud says that if the Romans would have realized how much they were benefiting from the Temple, they never would have destroyed it!

Of course, anyone wanting to take on an extra level of responsibility can voluntarily convert to become Jewish. But that is not a prerequisite for having a relationship with God and enjoying eternal reward.

From “Jewish Proselytizing?”
Ask the Rabbi

interfaithYes, all men are equal in the sense that all men are descended from Noah, and thus the wisdom and truth of the Torah is for all humanity, but how the responsibilities of the Torah are to be expressed are a function of covenant responsibility from a Jewish point of view. Jews are obligated to the full 613 mitzvot as modern Judaism understands the Torah commandments today, while most Jews consider Gentiles obligated to a subset of the Torah as defined by the Seven Noahide Laws.

Christianity disputes this, not in terms of thinking that we believers are obligated to the full weight of the Torah, but that Jesus removed the Torah obligations for everyone, and replaced them with grace, love, and forgiveness. I don’t believe the Bible supports this particular theology and maintain that while we non-Jewish Christians are not obligated to the full yoke of Torah, the Jewish people do remain a people of the full Torah in response to God and Sinai.

Christians and Jews don’t particularly believe that one group is better than the other and equality between the two groups is less of a concern than incompatibility. They simply see each other as completely different religious entities. Jews are Jews and Christians are Christians.

But if Christians and Jews traditionally don’t struggle over issues of equality or superiority, then where is the problem? We’ll address that in Part 2 of this series.